I just finished reading A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. In the book Donald is sharing the lessons that he learned while turning a different book of his into a screenplay for a movie. He expounds on how the things that make a good character in a story also make a good person in life.
This was my third trip through the book. Each time something different has stuck out to me. This time through this topic from the book hit me: a character doesn’t change unless he goes through hard times and conflict. The character stays one dimensional. When characters stay one dimensional readers don’t stay interested in the story for long.
Think about this in the different stories you have seen. In Braveheart (I don’t know why, but I always seem to gravitate to Braveheart as an example…anyway) Scotland would have never won their freeedom had William Wallace not gone through the pain of losing his wife. Her death at the hands of the English changed the direction of his life.
Or, think of an example from real life. Lance Armstrong would not be the icon we know today had he not gone through testicular cancer. He may have won some races, but his record number of wins at Tour de France would not have the meaning it has now. The disease changed the course of his life. How many people have been helped because of LiveStrong?
Marixa and I had a conversation the other night about this subject. She said this: “Life never does quite work out the way we have planned does it? So, why do we wait for it to? We expect to live a neat and tidy life, but we both know it isn’t going to happen.” I thought about her words for a while. Our lives have been anything but neat and tidy. I have had cancer. We tried for over 5 years to have our son. We have lost people we love. Life has been messy at times.
You know what I am talking about don’t you? Like many others, we have planned to have more children (as many as God will give us) and our dream home and other things that we want. We set time frames for when things are to come to pass. We expect life to adhere to our timeline. We want it to be neat and tidy. We want it to be easy. But, the story wouldn’t be as interesting or memorable if it were.
The advice Donald Miller gives is that you should start to write a better story for yourself. He had found some success, but had become content watching tv, doing little, and just getting by. He was not as happy as he wanted to be and had come to question the meaning of life. As he stated applying the principles of story to his life he realized that his life was boring. He needed to have conflict in his life that would make him grow. There had to be things he chose to do that were not comfortable so he could begin to really experience living. He hiked the Inca Trail. He biked across America from coast to coast to raise money for a charity, and he started a mentoring project for kids in America. He couldn’t wait for life to come to him. He had to go pursue it.
Marixa and I have found ourselves guilty of this. We have waited for life to come to us. Now, we are in pursuit of life. We are choosing to write a better story with our lives. We don’t have everything figured out, but we don’t have to. A character at the beginning of a story (or other points along the way) doesn’t have everything figured out. They just engage in the story that is taking place. The best characters engage and make the story the best it can be. This is my goal.
How about you? If you were reading the story of your life in a book would it be a page turner? Or a put downer? What can you do this week to begin to tell a better story?